Let's start this with a controversial statement: The city of Cleveland is not a glamorous place.
I know what you're thinking: Doesn't Cleveland rock? Well yes, it does if you're Drew Carey in 1998. But to most of us, Cleveland is a nowhere land we most commonly associate with river fires and post-industrial economic malaise.
There are not a large number of nightclubs in downtown Cleveland in which one can secure V.I.P. bottleservice whilst chatting amicably with Rick Ross. Pitbull does not live there. There is not a distinct regional cuisine. The beaches are not picturesque and decidedly bereft of models.
Perhaps most importantly to our story today – unlike Miami – the city of Cleveland has a long, tragic and sad history with sports. These terrible events even have legendary single-word names, burned forever into the fragile psyches of Clevelanders: The Drive, The Fumble, The Shot. There's even a Kickstarter for somebody making a children's coloring book of "Disappointing Moments in Cleveland Sports History." The campaign has raised over $23,000 to date.
And on 2010, Cleveland added a new and terrifying phrase to their tragic lexicon: The Decision.
On July 8th, 2010, LeBron left Cleveland for the glamorous confines of Miami and the very real promise of instant championship contention. Whether he intended to or not, he ripped the collective hearts out of the wounded and fragile city of Cleveland that day...on national television.
Now, almost four years to the day, LeBron announced he'll be returning home to take care of some unfinished business. And damn if it isn't a powerful message he's delivering:
"…this is not about the roster or the organization. I feel my calling here goes above basketball. I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously. My presence can make a difference in Miami, but I think it can mean more where I'm from. I want kids in Northeast Ohio, like the hundreds of Akron third-graders I sponsor through my foundation, to realize that there's no better place to grow up."
Try not to admire those words, I dare you.
Hands down, the easiest thing that LeBron James could have done with his free agency this summer would have been to resign with the Miami Heat.
It would have guaranteed him a legitimate shot at more NBA championships for his basketball legacy. It would have meant continuing to play alongside world-class talents and his close friends in Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. It would have meant playing for one of the best coach/GM duos in the NBA in Spoelstra and Riley.
In Cleveland, he'll be met with a rookie coach, a young and inconsistent roster, an owner prone to Comic Sans-befonted tirades and an overweight Canadian with sleep apnea. There are no guarantees of playoff success, and a lot of work to do to get there. He is almost certainly less likely to win the requisite championships needed to achieve Michael Jordan's level of historical legacy and significance.
And yet, knowing all that, LeBron James decided to say 'Fuck it, I'm going to Cleveland.' And he's doing it because of his unending love and devotion to a part of the world that most people forget exists on a daily basis.
Yes, there is some negative consequences from this decision. Chris Bosh will likely move on to Houston, disappointed he was spurned by his friend. And Dwyane Wade opted out of a lucrative contract in hopes of teaming up with LeBron for one more run at championships – he's now left adrift, uncertain where he will land and how much financial security he ultimately gave up.
But James seems to be following a higher calling with this move. We can't help but admire his devotion to Flyover Land. Fair or not, a large number of human beings currently alive in the year 2014 dislike LeBron James. After today perhaps they should rethink that.
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